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Sunday, January 22, 2006
Updated: January 23, 7:57 PM ET
Gibbs gives up play-calling duties for first time

ESPN.com news services

ASHBURN, Va. -- Joe Gibbs is turning over the reins of the Washington Redskins offense, a significant role change for a Hall of Fame coach who found himself trying to handle too many jobs.

Saunders' hiring gives the Redskins 11 offensive coaches, enough to have one for each player on the field at any given time. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Sunday he was concerned about the high salaries Washington is paying its assistants, especially in the context of the league's ongoing talks about the disparity between high-revenue and low-revenue teams.

Al Saunders was formally introduced Monday and given the title of "associate head coach-offense." The former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator will call the plays and essentially replace Gibbs as the offense's chief game-planner.

"He will oversee and direct the offense," Gibbs said. "It will free me up to do some other things."

Team sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Gibbs will embrace more of a CEO/GM mentality and turn his attention even more to the personnel side -- such as the big decisions as to whether to trade backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey and keep linebacker Lavar Arrington.

Al Saunders
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has given newly hired Al Saunders the thumbs up to run the team's offense in 2006.

Gibbs wooed Saunders last week, even as Saunders was still considered a candidate for head coaching openings in Oakland and Houston. Saunders said Gibbs told him: "I don't know if I can do those 20-hour days anymore." Gibbs then offered a three-year contract worth about $6 million -- head-coaching money for a lot of teams.

"You don't often get a chance to work side-by-side with someone who's already in the Hall of Fame," Saunders said.

Saunders called the Raiders and Texans to withdraw his name, then told his wife that "this is our last move." His arrival gives the Redskins two heirs apparent when Gibbs decides to retire again, with defensive coach Gregg Williams also a prime candidate. Williams signed a three-year deal worth nearly $8 million last week.

As for Gibbs, he spoke of "chasing down the halls" this season to deal with his various duties as team president, a level of responsibility he didn't have during his first tenure with the Redskins from 1981-92.

The 65-year-old coach still will continue to be a mainstay at the offense's infamous late-night game-planning meetings. Saunders, like Gibbs, has ties to former NFL offensive guru Don Coryell.

"My heart is still with the offense," Gibbs said. "Al will probably be saying 'Shut up!' "

During the second half of this season, Gibbs showed and spoke about the wear and tear of the long hours, even as he led the team to a 10-6 record and its first playoff berth in six years. He reiterated Monday, however, that he plans to fulfill the remaining three years of his contract.

"The contract I signed wasn't for three or four years," Gibbs said. "It was for five years."

Saunders' hiring gives the Redskins 11 offensive coaches, enough to have one for each player on the field at any given time. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Sunday he was concerned about the high salaries Washington is paying its assistants, especially in the context of the league's ongoing talks about the disparity between high-revenue and low-revenue teams.

The Redskins have so many coaches that a title had to be invented for Saunders, although most of the team's titles don't accurately reflect the duties involved. Greg Blache, for example, is listed as the defensive coordinator, but Williams actually performs that role under the title of "assistant head coach-defense." Joe Bugel remains "assistant head coach-offense," and Don Breaux gets to put "offensive coordinator" on his nameplate.

"It's not about titles," Saunders said. "It is about production."

The Redskins' offense finished 11th in the league but faded toward the end of the season and during the playoffs because of a knee injury that slowed down quarterback Mark Brunell and injuries to receivers on the other side of wide receiver Santana Moss.

Saunders was a natural fit because he learned the system of Gibbs and Coryell in San Diego as an assistant coach from 1983-85. Saunders was the Chargers head coach from 1986-88, where he was 17-22.

Saunders ran one of the NFL's hottest offenses with the Chiefs. They finished first in the league averaging 387 yards a game in 2005 and averaged 25.2 points. In his five seasons as Kansas City's offensive coordinator, the Chiefs never ranked lower than No. 5 in the league in total offense, and were No. 1 each of the last two seasons.

Saunders, who turns 59 on Feb. 1, interviewed for the head coaching openings in Kansas City and Detroit as well as Houston and Oakland. He was considered a top candidate to replace Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, but Jets coach Herman Edwards got the job instead.

"It was disappointing," Saunders said. "That would have been a wonderful organization and a wonderful thing. [Chiefs President] Carl Peterson chose the coach that he felt was best for him and the organization at that time, and I understand that."

Saunders wouldn't comment when asked about reports that Peterson had once promised him the Chiefs job.

"I am just very grateful that I right now have the chance to do this with the Washington Redskins, and that is where I am looking," Saunders said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.